BookPage Fiction Top Pick, February 2016
Poet and translator Idra Novey brings a considerable imagination to her first work of fiction, Ways to Disappear, in which the disappearance of a famous novelist upends the life of her American translator.
The novel opens with a touch of magic realism: Legendary Brazilian writer Beatriz Yagoda lights a cigar, climbs into an almond tree with a suitcase and vanishes. Hundreds of miles away, her American translator, Emma Neufield, hears the news. Abruptly canceling her classes and leaving her stuffy boyfriend, Miles, behind, Emma flies from snowy Pittsburgh to sultry Rio to lead the search. By the time she arrives, the situation has grown complex: Yagoda’s children, the practical Raquel and the devastatingly sexy Marcus (neither of whom has ever completed reading one of their mother’s books), have discovered that their mother owes thousands to an angry loan shark. The eccentric cast of characters crisscrosses Brazil from Rio’s sordid back alleys to sunny beach towns and island resorts in pursuit of the missing writer.
Stylish and funny, romantic and surreal, Ways to Disappear is a quirky look at the intimate relationship between author and translator. Novey, who has translated several South American writers, including the great Clarice Lispector, has absorbed their experimental spirit, and the story is interspersed with Miles’ increasingly panicky emails and Emma’s translation notes. Though Ways to Disappear unfolds at the rapid pace of a screwball comedy, there is also something patient and artful about the novel, making it a thoughtful treatise on writing and artmaking that is as profound as it is playful.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our Q&A with Novey about Ways to Disappear.